Child Soldiers In Colombia: Victims Or Killers?

Underage or not, guerillas who continue taking up arms against the state are 'war machines,' the Colombian defense minister recently stated. But what if they were forcibly recruited?

Detail of an archive photo (2005) showing a young FARC fighter in Colombia in 2005
Juan Camilo Rivera


In late 2019, the Colombian Armed Forces launched an air attack on dissident fighters of the now-disbanded FARC guerrilla army. They bombed a camp in the southern district of San Vicente de Caguán, killing 18 FARC fighters. At least seven of them were minors.

There was uproar in Colombia and the defense minister faced sharp criticism and was forced to resign for hiding the fact that children had been killed. Was it legal, people wanted to know, to bomb a base when it was known that the fighters there included children?

Less than two years later, the country is talking about a similar incident, one that occurred on March 2. The protagonists were the same, with more allegations of the dead including children. The current defense minister, Diego Molano, has defended the attack. He promises that the state prosecution service will determine the exact age of the dead fighters, but adds that the more important point, in any case, is that even if the fighters are underage, they've been turned, by their recruiters, into war machines able to commit terrorist attacks. He said the army had acted in keeping with International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

It's true that the IHL does not expressly outlaw military operations where minors are found to be participating directly in hostilities. But nor does it obligate states to carry them out. In that sense, IHL is closer to a restrictive law, though the decision to launch the attack and its justification are neither solely nor principally a juridical matter.

They've been turned, by their recruiters, into war machines.

Some war atrocities repeat themselves, as do the narratives built to explain them. In fact, this debate is closely tied to another that has been present for decades in the Colombian conflict: Can members of illegal armed groups, whether children or not, be considered victims?

Instead, they're usually considered perpetrators of the violations associated with the group to which they belong. Certainly some members of the group are responsible for such violations, as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Truth Commission will help show. But the idea evades the fact that in the Colombian conflict, there were numerous cases of forced recruitment of minors and of sexual violence, among other acts of violence, committed against them.

Nov. 1 protest in front of Bogota's Supreme Court demanding peace accords be respected — Photo: Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Various occasions international and national laws have indicated that the same person can, at different times, be both victim and a perpetrator of criminal acts. For example, the Law of Victims ("La Ley de víctimas') stipulated that members of illegal armed groups could only be considered victims if they had demobilized while still underage. The stipulation, which was little debated as the law was processed, was confirmed by the Constitutional Court with the argument that while members of such groups can be victims of human rights or IHL violations, it was legitimate for the state to limit the reparations allocated to them in the law, and it could exclude them payments. That is, these will not receive reparations pursuant to the Victims law though legally speaking, they are considered both victims and perpetrators of IHL violations.

Can members of illegal armed groups, whether children or not, be considered victims?

In spite of this coincidence, victims and perpetrators are frequently spoken of as opposites. This is implied by Defense Minister Molano's comments on children becoming "war machines," though his words go further by dehumanizing the children. From perpetrators, they have become instruments.

This description has its use: It distracts from issues like loss of human lives, the age of the dead, the possibility that they were forced into the conflict or the precarious socio-economic conditions of their families. Being war machines, the military option against them is not just legitimate but inevitable. There is no need to say more on what the state must do to rectify this injustice, beyond blaming — rightfully, it should be said — all those who have dehumanized these children.

*Juan Camilo Rivera is an attorney, currently studying for a Ph.D. in law at the University of Harvard.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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